An Evening at Madam L's Soiree
I know you’re tired of reading about my Paris adventures. This is the last one, I promise. I’d like to move on to other things. It deals with a very interesting evening we had at the home of a Paris resident and an ingenious though not original way of surviving in the City of Lights. To protect her identity, we’ll just call her Madam L. An evening at Madam L’s Soiree. Before leaving home, a friend suggested that when I got to Paris I must contact this African American woman in Paris who hosted soirees for visitors. “She hosts parties for artists of all genres at her home.” While my friend hadn’t been to one when she visited Paris, she had heard about her from a friend.
One day during our stay, I called the number my friend had given me. Madam L told me she was having a soiree that evening at her house and gave me directions by train. Her apartment was located on the Left Bank. My sister and I took the train to her stop and followed directions to her apartment. By that time, night had fallen, and streetlights had come on. Few people walked along the street. This would be our first time inside an apartment in Paris and we were excited.
To enter the building we had to pass through a huge iron gate. Once inside, we walked across the yard and into the ancient apartment building that reminded me of Harlem. A note on her mailbox indicated that visitors were to leave the Euros or francs inside her mailbox and come up. We were reluctant to do that.
When we reached her apartment on the third floor, a young woman opened the door and greeted us warmly. In her hand she held a cigar box into which we deposited our money. Apparently few visitors left money downstairs. Then we walked into the living room already crowded with people; it was difficult to make out the décor. I saw three people on the sofa and someone sitting in the only comfortable chair in the room. Everyone else stood around in small groups. Several guests spoke French, a few English. A young black man with an unusually high head came over, shook our hands and told us he had lived there for years. Originally from Philly, he was a poet who had come to Paris and settled. He found it an exciting and welcoming place. We met two English women who had come over by the Chunnel train from London for the weekend.
Emerging from the kitchen, our host appeared carrying a large bowl of squash soup. A harried, slightly intoxicated petite woman, honey brown complexion, she wore beige lounging pajamas and flat shoes, a gold chain around her neck. Her short brown hair was stylishly cut. She didn’t appear very friendly and smelled of whiskey. She flittered busily around the room handing out small bowls, ladling up the squash soup and speaking French like a native. Her helpers, two young French women, passed out hors d’oeuvres and glasses of wine. After standing around for what seemed like hours, we managed to find seats on the sofa. By that time I felt almost claustrophobic and awkward. The squash soup was delicious as was the wine. Since it was a warm night, the windows were open. We were told to keep our conversations down so as not to disturb the neighbors. There had been some complaints about her gatherings. Suddenly, small white stools appeared seemingly out of thin air and everyone sat down. Madam L appeared from the kitchen once more to introduce the special guests, an author who had written several books. He read a few pages to our applause and answered questions about his books. Glancing down at her watch, my sister suggested we take our leave as the trains would be shutting down soon and we didn’t want to get stuck walking through Paris that late. We couldn’t locate Madam L. to say our goodbyes.
I left my email address and for a few years received emails from her telling everyone on her email list who the guests would be, how much it costs, and where the soiree was being held. It wasn’t until I became a recipient of spam along with others judging by their hostile responses that I blocked her emails.